As San Diegans try to digest why an ambitious effort to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the 1915 party that transformed San Diego and Balboa Park fell apart, it helps to think of it the way a key player saw it — as a startup.

The city of San Diego partnered with hotel owners to try to turn $2 million into $30 million. They wanted to draw millions of visitors to San Diego for an event of worldwide reach that would have transformed the region.

Unlike most startups, however, this one didn’t actually begin with a product or an idea. All it had was a goal: Raise a lot of money to do something gigantic.

As the organization scrambled to meet expectations, management turnover disrupted it, political leaders mismanaged it, costly vendors failed to deliver and now little time remains to put on an event of lasting significance.

READ MORE: What Now? There’s Still Money for a Balboa Park 2015 Bash But Little Time

We wanted to understand what happened. Here’s what we found.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

It’s Hard to Raise Taxes in San Diego

To understand what happened to Balboa Park Celebration Inc., the nonprofit group created to throw a giant party marking the centennial of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, you have to understand where it got its money.

BPmoney

From the beginning, insiders believed three main sources of money would launch the effort. The city and foundations would contribute and another good chunk would come from the Tourism Marketing District, or TMD. About $900,000 of the $3 million invested in the effort came from the TMD. But the TMD had a major impact on planning.

It was a TMD committee that set the expectations and framework for the organization that would eventually be created to run the effort. It was the TMD that decided the celebration would bring in millions of out-of-town visitors.

And that was crucial: TMD funds can only be used to lure visitors to San Diego with marketing.

The mastermind behind the TMD was Mike McDowell. This is him, second from the left. To the right are former Mayor Jerry Sanders and Irwin Jacobs, the founder of Qualcomm. In this 2012 photo, they’re waiting for word on the City Council’s decision to accept Jacobs’ plan to remodel Balboa Park.

File photo by Sam Hodgson
File photo by Sam Hodgson

McDowell is very influential. In 2004, he was the top deputy of C. Terry Brown, owner of the Town and Country Resort.

That year, McDowell formed an alliance of hotel owners, public employee unions and arts and culture groups to raise the city’s hotel room tax with a ballot measure. The City Council put it on the ballot, outlining where the revenues would go. Everyone in the coalition stood to gain.

It failed.

McDowell feared the city would someday stop funding the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and other programs he believed helped his industry.

So he figured out a way to raise the tax without voters. By 2007, he had persuaded the city to help hotel owners create a special district of hotels — the TMD. They would effectively raise the hotel room tax but as a fee levied by this special district. Only the hotels — not voters — would have to approve it.

And the money could only be used to lure visitors to San Diego. It was just like the tax increase proposed years earlier but without the obligation to fund other city programs.

This was McDowell’s innovation. The concept has since spread to dozens of cities in California. In spite of legal challenges, San Diego renewed the TMD right before former Mayor Bob Filner took office.

Crucially, however, the operating agreement for that renewal was not signed by Filner’s predecessor.

The TMD’s board of directors gets to decide where its money goes. That board is made up of hotel representatives and is led by McDowell’s boss, Brown.

In 2010, McDowell persuaded the TMD to match a $300,000 investment from local foundations and $400,000 from the city to give seed money to the nascent effort to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. And it was McDowell who crafted the new organization’s Memorandum of Understanding with the city of San Diego.

The organization grew out of this document from the TMD. It set the framework for the organization going forward. “We will produce an extraordinary visitor experience,” it promises.

The Balboa Park Celebration Inc., or BPCI, would be a 501(c)3 nonprofit. It would have a board of directors — a “host committee.” And that group would hire an executive director. In an interview, McDowell said he saw the effort to celebrate the anniversary as an entrepreneurial startup.

bp-pushquote Burke“We have to find the seed money. We have to find the angel investors. And then we have to find the venture capitalists. If we look at this as a product from that economic perspective, maybe we’ll get lucky and maybe we can make this happen,” he said.

They didn’t, however, put an entrepreneur in charge of the effort. They decided the volunteer board would be led by prominent husband-and-wife lobbying duo Ben and Nikki Clay.

When Clay, McDowell and the rest of the board chose the executive director, they went with Mark Germyn.

Germyn was also not an entrepreneur. He had coordinated the United States’ presence at the 2010 Shanghai Expo, which Foreign Policy magazine called “the largest and most expensive world’s fair in history.” The magazine also called the U.S. pavilion a “sorry spectacle.” Germyn is now general manager of Malaysia’s Legoland Resort.

We could not reach him.

One of Germyn’s tasks was to raise money to pay for his own role. He did not succeed. And soon enough, 2011 became a lost year. Germyn left, citing family problems.

“He turned out not to be the entrepreneur,” McDowell said.

This was the first crisis in what would be a parade of them for the group.

Nikki Clay asked McDowell to take the job. He initially refused. Then his boss, Brown, encouraged him to take it. Brown would pay half McDowell’s salary, the celebration committee would pay the other half.

That’s how the man who had created the Tourism Marketing District became the man who made sure that it funded the Balboa Park 2015 celebration. The same man who wrote the nonprofit’s operating agreement with the city was suddenly its chief executive.

McDowell is entrenched in the city’s business community and its conservative political coalition. He was a major supporter of Sanders and backed Carl DeMaio over Filner in the 2012 mayor’s race. He was one of many close ties BPCI had to Sanders’ administration.

In short, McDowell was as far from Filner politically as possible. They didn’t get along when Filner won. In fact, things got quite tense.

‘We Have to Do Something Magnificent’

Plans for a year-long party in Balboa Park lacked many things. Not ambition.

City leaders had discussed the idea for years. Councilman Todd Gloria famously said the Panama-California Exposition’s centennial shouldn’t be confused with a birthday party.

“For an event that literally put San Diego on the map, and the concept that a town of 40,000 in 1915 putting on what amounted to a world’s fair, it’s a pretty audacious thing to do,” he said. “We can’t mark that with a sheet cake; we have to do something magnificent.”

Those expectations are right there in BPCI’s original agreement with the city, the one McDowell wrote more than a year before he’d eventually control the organization: “City intends that the Celebration be an event of significant magnitude to generate positive impacts on the local and regional economies, reverberate in the global media, and attract local, national, and international visitors,” it says.

The City Council was looking at some big numbers when it approved BPCI’s initial funding. A steering committee including McDowell had put together some initial projections for the event.

Ten million people visited Balboa Park in 2010. The park could double that number in 2015 with a great centennial, according to the steering committee, and as many as 75 percent of those 10 million additional attendees could come from out of town.

That was the expectation.

But when BPCI ultimately applied to the TMD for a cut of hotel room tax funding, its projected reach was much smaller.

TMD funding requires a demonstration that it’ll be used to put “heads in beds” of local hotels. TMD keeps tabs on spending to ensure it’s being directed to that goal.

The committee’s application drew from a study by Carl Winston, director of San Diego State University’s hospitality program, that said the events envisioned by the committee could produce 300,000 to 500,000 hotel room stays. That’s the number the TMD relied on when it approved the money. (The Holiday Bowl, for comparison, draws 30,000 room nights each year.)

But Winston himself said his projection was more conservative.

If the committee followed through with its promises, then it was possible to reach those numbers.

“Our perspective was, if you do the things you say, and at a scale that’s comparable to those things, you could do it,” Winston said. “That got taken in interesting ways as a guarantee.”

In January 2013, Filner upped the expectations even more.

“I happen to know presidents and kings and prime ministers — I want to bring them here,” he told a February 2013 gathering.

Ultimately, the event collapsed under the weight of its otherworldly expectations.

In pursuit of visitors from all over the globe — to say nothing of kings and prime ministers — the event had to be big. When corporate sponsorships that could support a $30 million event didn’t materialize, there was nowhere to go. The expectations had been written into BPCI’s founding document.

Stephen Russell, an architect with Platt/Whitelaw who served on the committee’s board of directors, said the board deserved the blame it was getting but that there were intrinsic problems with the event’s conception.

“The primary problem was the starting premise: that this had to be a national (or international) event on the scale of a Super Bowl. So much of the planning was predicated on this beginning assumption that it became all but impossible to re-format and recalibrate the event to accommodate changing conditions,” he wrote.

Gloria, who found himself as the third mayor overseeing the event after Filner’s resignation, said he didn’t buy the argument.

“In part because it doesn’t matter where the heads come from,” he said. “Whether the heads come from New York, China or San Clemente or Yuma, that’d be fine. They’re agnostic on where they came from.”

But the curse of big promises wasn’t the only problem.

The Filner Disruption

In January 2013, the day before BPCI’s board was set to meet at its normal spot in the Hall of Champions, it learned the new mayor, Filner, would be there.

McDowell, by this point, has set up a whole array of contractors who are laying out their first findings.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

McDowell and the board, led by the Clays, had been working with a new fundraiser, David Gillig.

Gillig is the former vice president of Rady Children’s Hospital. He’s a fundraising pro, and helped get Rady’s name on the hospital.

Gillig was now in consulting. McDowell had asked for Gillig’s advice and it had turned into a $2,500 contract to help the group understand what it would take to raise $30 million.

He was to present his advice to the board.

With Filner looking on, Gillig told the group to consider major corporate sponsorships. If they wanted to raise tens of millions of dollars for something that would only last a year (unlike construction of a building, for instance) generous contributions from individuals probably wouldn’t cut it.

But corporations might see a chance to get their own messages out.

“I proposed the idea of seeking a very large corporate sponsor who could serve as the 2015 ‘brought to you by,'” he said.

Filner erupted.

“David was making his presentation and Filner just yelled at him. Told him he was stupid. Told him he was not going to allow corporatization of the park, with company signs everywhere,” Ben Clay said.

Gillig left the meeting. Clay said he left because of the yelling. Gillig told us he just thought he was supposed to leave.

“I wasn’t really mad. I didn’t like the way I was treated by the mayor but he’s the one who came off looking bad, not me,” Gillig said.

Either way, Gillig was out.

“My head was reeling. I was thinking. OK, we’ve got a problem,” McDowell said. Filner questioned McDowell’s pay. For the year he worked, McDowell received $182,000, which the Town and Country Resort matched.

“It was very uncomfortable, him being there,” McDowell said of the meeting.

Gillig’s departure left the Centennial once again without fundraising guidance. More importantly, Filner’s reason for running him off — that corporate sponsorships weren’t an acceptable funding solution — meant the nonprofit was again confused about how it would raise millions. And expectations were only going up.

Soon, McDowell was out as well. His Republican network didn’t sit well with Filner. McDowell said the two were “like oil and water” and it wasn’t going to work, so he quit.

His replacement, oddly enough, was also close to the local Republican establishment. Julie Dubick, Sanders’ former chief of staff, stepped in as the organization’s third CEO. The  thinking was that she’d worked with the various city departments needed to make the event happen, which trumped her complete lack of experience planning a major event.

This is Dubick.

File photo by Sam Hodgson
File photo by Sam Hodgson

But Filner’s issue wasn’t just about personalities. He also hated the branding the organization had settled on: Edge 2015 — an umbrella meant to position the event as forward-looking, not historical. Filner told the group he wouldn’t help something called “Edge 2015.”

That sent Departure, the advertising firm that had come up with Edge 2015, packing and another firm, Loma Media, that had been retained to build a marketing and media strategy, scrambling to rebrand the entire effort.

Filner’s ultimatum turned out to be a popular decision. When Filner announced he was killing the idea, many in the city nodded in agreement. It was easy to mock as out-of-touch: What could be less edgy than calling yourself edgy?

Gloria said it wasn’t easy to pitch the vision that replaced it — less about the future, more about the past — to the people needed to get the Centennial to a $30 million budget.

“Believe me, I heard plenty of people that didn’t like Edge 2015. But … as I was making phone calls it became clear to me that we probably needed Edge 2015 — because … 1915 and 1935 were very forward-looking events. I think, that’s what Edge 2015 was about, and listen, I’m not a pro at this stuff, but my sense was when you’re calling our high-tech companies about an event that … because of (Filner’s) vision of it became more backward-looking than forward-looking, it was hard for them to see a place for them in this, so their checks got smaller, or nonexistent.”

That was a recurring sentiment: Maybe Edge wasn’t all that hip, but it would’ve worked OK, and changing it set everyone back.

McDowell said he heard from plenty of people who didn’t like Edge (he liked it, he says). But it was a broad concept that would let organizations go their own direction.

“What I wanted, and this is true on multiple levels, was an umbrella that was so esoteric that really almost anything could fit underneath it. You could have some traditional thing that at one time was edgy, and talk about how this was a trend of the day, or whatever.”

Filner did, however, really like one of the contractors: Autonomy, the firm that had been selected to produce the entire show. After seeing Autonomy’s presentation to the board at a retreat later in January 2013, the mayor asked Autonomy to meet with him alone.

“He told us, ‘This is the first time I heard a vision I can get behind,'” said Adam Burke, of Autonomy.

Despite the fact that the organization meant to pull off the project was in disarray, Filner’s vision for how big and bold it could be only expanded.

“He was taking the position that he was the mayor and this was going to be very big,” Burke said. Autonomy partners responded with a proposal to program their vision of a world-class celebration. They wanted $500,000 for it.

“It is positioned to be the largest joint celebration of park space, museums and other institutions that the western United States has ever seen,” Burke and his partner wrote to Filner.

A year later, Filner was under house arrest and no longer mayor. Burke and Autonomy had been fired, without explanation, they say. And Balboa Park Celebration Inc. was being disbanded, the celebration handed over to the city with virtually nothing to show for the effort.

So, What Exactly Were They Organizing?

One month stands out more than any in this story: January 2013. Those who blame Filner for the demise say things were finally gaining momentum when he first showed up at their board meeting. He forced McDowell out. He took over Autonomy. He demanded a rebranding. He began a months-long fight with the TMD by refusing to sign the operating agreement for its renewal.

McDowell says a tremendous amount of work had been done since Germyn left the year before.

“We built a nonprofit organization from the ground up,” McDowell said.

Even if all of that is true, and even if Filner disrupted it all, a fundamental question still hadn’t been answered: What exactly were they organizing?

The confusion over the answer went right up to the top.

In January 2013, Roger Showley, a writer for U-T San Diego shot this video of Ben and Nikki Clay trying to explain one part of what they were envisioning.

One year later, the videos got remarkably better but the message was still incomprehensible. Here’s a video from Loma Media featuring the two candidates vying to replace Filner, and Gloria, the interim mayor holding his office in the meantime.

Like everything before it, the video articulates big expectations but no clarity on what actually would happen. And when the video was released, there was only a year to go.

We asked almost everyone we interviewed what the event was going to be. None of them could describe it very simply. Phrases like innovation,  lights, San Diego Alive, Celebration Forum, thought-leadership speakers series are all over the place. Not once was someone able to clearly state what they were organizing.

But money was going out the door. What were the major contractors doing with it?

What Two Costly Contractors Did

Loma Media

Total Received: $467,000

Task: Media, promotion

Loma Media shot the video above from December, featuring Gloria and the mayoral candidates. The firm also made this video. Loma is well known in town, and produces the parody videos every year for the San Diego County Taxpayers’ Association annual Golden Fleece awards.

Loma was also asked to rebrand Edge 2015, the product of a company called Departure, which received $65,000. Edge 2015 didn’t highlight Balboa Park. It didn’t highlight the 100-year anniversary of the 1915 celebration.

edege2015

So Loma turned the focus away from the future and to the past.

bp2015logo

There was some surprise when BPCI’s financials revealed Loma had gotten $37,000 a month.

John Debello, Loma’s principal and creative director, said he took issue with that figure. The total Loma had been paid came over 24 months, he said, so it was more like $19,000 a month. And he said the firm used that to pay multiple subcontractors.

He said his firm had rebranded the event and produced multiple videos, and he repeatedly talked about the 55,000 fans of the robust Facebook page he had created.

“People are interested in the celebration and it’s not an accident,” DeBello said. He said his fee was more than acceptable. After all, he said, this was supposed to be a $30 million event. He was setting the groundwork for a marketing budget that would suffice.

Autonomy

Total Received: $467,189

Task: Programming

While McDowell ran the effort, he said he took meeting after meeting as people presented ideas about what the celebration should be.

“We had a lot of people in those meetings who were all hat and no cattle. They had lots of ideas but they were waiting for someone else to pay for it and do it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Autonomy kept coming up with all kinds of visions like this.

flyingpeople

That comes from this Summer 2013 presentation. Yes, those are people bouncing above a big river. We don’t know which one. Or whether they signed their life away before partaking.

Autonomy partner Burke denied that Filner became the de facto manager of everything Autonomy did but acknowledged the firm began working closely with him. Ben Clay and McDowell said that the mayor regarded the company as his own contractor.

On Jan. 30, 2013, Burke and his partner sent a letter to Filner. It was in response to his request for a budget and organizational chart, as though everything were starting from scratch.

Autonomy outlined four things that would characterize the event.

• Spectacles

• Programming zones

• Park-wide programming

• Regional events

A spectacle, for instance, would be “Massive public events taking place at iconic locations at the park and around the region,” the letter to Filner said. There would be one per quarter, and they might include a cross-border concert.

“Our goal was to push past the usual narrative about the weather, the beach and the theme parks and commercial developments,” Burke told us.

After Filner resigned, Autonomy was dismissed in November 2013.

“We were brought into a room, handed a piece of paper and we walked out,” he said. “The company that was meant to be raising the money had worked their way into our shoes.”

BPCI brought in a new company, Utopia, in November 2013 and they got a new contract in February 2013. It has so far received $65,000 from the organization.

A Failure in Slow Motion

In the promotional video above, Gloria says this: “The Balboa Park centennial celebration will be the No. 1 reason people visit San Diego in 2015.”

But he didn’t say what he was really thinking.

Soon after he took the mayor’s office, he said, he learned BPCI was in trouble.

He said he considered pulling the plug then, but couldn’t bring himself to do it for two reasons. One was competing priorities.

bp-pushquote Gloria“The second one is more emotional,” he said. “I’ll be really honest: This is something I’ve been involved with for some time, I understood where we were trying to go with it. The fact that we weren’t meeting the mark, I … I didn’t want to give up on it.”

He started going on fundraising calls to see if they could get the money they needed.

“People just weren’t responding to what we were offering,” he said. “By the new year is when I started becoming much more direct with them in terms of saying, ‘I need to see results, in measurable progress.'”

The lack of measurable progress had also started to concerning the people who oversaw the TMD. It was trying to keep track of the state of its investment, and answers were scarce.

Some TMD board members grew skeptical that Dubick and BPCI had any of the major sponsorship agreements or partnerships they had included in their request for additional funding.

The TMD called a meeting for Jan. 21 to discuss the discrepancy. There, board members made clear they wanted to hear about planned events with actual dollars attached to sponsorship agreements.

“Red flags went up when they came to that board meeting and couldn’t answer simple questions about sponsorship,” said Lorin Stewart, executive director of the TMD.

Dubick, in an email, told us that political turmoil hampered her fundraising.

“We were told ‘no’ on several occasions but more often told the company needed more time and we believed enough would step up to support a big community celebration. Simultaneously we began to scale back the scope of the events while trying to comply with our mission to produce a spectacular celebration worthy of our community,” she said.

She declined to answer any further questions.

Her explanations weren’t working. The TMD’s chair, Brown, spelled the TMD’s concerns in a Jan. 28 letter to Dubick: It was time for the committee to put up or shut up with major sponsorships attached to actual events if it wanted any more TMD money.

A little more than two weeks later, Dubick resigned. She went to work for one of BPCI’s board members, Yehudi Gaffen, who runs the construction company Gafcon.

Less than a month after that, BPCI announced it was closing up shop and all its remaining money would go back to the city.

Stewart said his first inclination that things weren’t going well came months earlier at a public presentation in the park. Audience members asked Dubick if there was a calendar of events they could see.

“The answer was, it was a work in progress and they’d have it shortly,” Stewart said.

Gloria, likewise, said he first started to get concerned when he began hearing from constituents trying to volunteer who were being rebuffed.

“That was the earliest inkling I had that maybe something wasn’t working well, because this is a situation where … if you want to put on an event at the size and scale that it was discussed … you would need that army of volunteers to make it so,” he said, describing a dynamic described this week by KPBS.

Despite the lethal combination of an ambitious idea with a dysfunctional planning process, those most familiar with the politics of the park nonetheless thought something could be salvaged from the initial idea.

Vicki Granowitz used to be the chair of the city’s Balboa Park Committee and a member of the Balboa Park Conservancy board.

The Centennial, Granowitz said, lost its best chance at success when McDowell stepped down as CEO.

“Mike was the only one who could have made it work,” she said. “He is a very upstanding guy, he is kind even though he has a rough exterior, and he cares about the park. He knows all about ‘heads in beds,’ but he also knew how to make that work together with everything else.”

But the effort took another hit, she said, years earlier, before BPCI was founded or Filner was even elected.

Why Did it Fail?

If the whole thing was a startup, as 2014 began it was coming to the end of its runway of funding. Without a concrete idea of what, exactly, it was organizing, residents and journalists began to realize it was a mess.

It may have been doomed from the beginning.

Zack Nielsen, who runs Sezio, a local event-planning and marketing organization, was part of some of the initial brainstorming meetings in 2010 as the Clays tried to settle on a vision.

He said the heart of the confusion was the obsession with attracting out-of-town visitors.

“No one outside of San Diego is ever going to care unless the people in San Diego care,” Nielsen said. “Nobody is going to start a company just with a claim about how much money they’re going to make. They start with an idea that people are attracted to and it snowballs into success. The only idea I ever saw was that they were going to project lights onto buildings.”

That idea became this image, from a promotional release last year.

balboa-jpg

But the disruption that really hurt the effort, Granowitz said, was when it lost Bill Evans.

This is Evans.

File photo by Sam Hodgson
File photo by Sam Hodgson

His family have been San Diego hotel owners for a long long time. They run the Torrey Pines Lodge. The Bahia. Evans fought the hotel room tax McDowell tried to increase in 2004. He was difficult to please when they wanted to renew the TMD that replaced it.

His family has memorabilia from the 1915 celebration and he was involved early in the discussion about how to mark the centennial.

Granowitz said McDowell and Evans reached out to her to help understand the park’s hundred-some institutions, volunteers and enthusiasts who all wanted to be heard.

But Evans withdrew and stayed involved only to the extent that the TMD made funding decisions for BPCI. When the organization started to fall apart, he pounced and demanded accountability.

“He was a force of nature,” Granowitz said. “But if he was wrong, you could disagree with him and he would be OK. When you lost Bill Evans, that was a huge, huge problem.”

(Granowitz’s praise of Evans and McDowell surprised us. “Please don’t make me look like a Republican,” she said, after singing their virtues.)

Evans’ early vision was for the TMD itself to plan the event, so it could be run by tourism professionals.

Gerry Braun, who left his job as special projects director under Sanders to become BPCI’s spokesman, said Evans twice told him about a pitch along those lines he had made to the Sanders administration, before Braun worked for Sanders.

Evans told Braun he presented to Sanders’ office his plan to give TMD control over the Centennial, along with a larger upfront financial commitment.

Sanders rejected it.

Stewart and McDowell acknowledged there were early discussions with Sanders’ administration along those lines, but said there was never a formal offer.

The discussed TMD funding package could have been for as much as $1 million a year for five years, giving it a $5 million budget to plan the type of spectacle that would attract corporate sponsorship.

But it’s hard to make the case that BPCI’s problems stemmed from a lack of funding, Stewart said. After all, it had spent $246,000 less than had been budgeted to it from the TMD.

“They have received more money than they had given us receipts for,” Stewart said. “So, from our perspective, they’re not lacking funds. Clearly, something happened with the fundraising.”

Gloria made a similar case. Given the money spent and the complete lack of an event to show for it, it’s hard to say there wasn’t enough money.

“This event didn’t want for money or contracts,” Gloria said. “This event wants for sponsorships. There was always people saying, ‘I’m going to do this,’ ‘I’m going to rally my friends,’ ‘I’m going to donate,’ and it just never came through. I think that’s in part because what was being laid out to them as a vision for the event wasn’t resonating.”

Ultimately, BPCI ended up being dominated by its board chairs, the Clays, who as lobbyists were more experienced with City Hall deal-making than planning a large-scale event.

And McDowell was replaced by Dubick, who, likewise, had a resume full of experience in politics, but not event planning.

Evans gave a cryptic but unsparing take on what went wrong with the centennial planning.

“Not that hard to drive a Greyhound bus over a steep mountain road as long as you have a driver with experience,” Evans wrote in an bp-pushquote Evansjpgemail.

“If you let someone that has never done it before give it a try, you shouldn’t be too surprised when it goes over the edge in a big ball of fire. Political strength should not be confused with business acumen. The hospitality/event business is a real bitch to pull off. The margin of error between being a hero or a bum is very small.”

We asked Ben Clay for his reaction to people who say he and his wife were not well-suited to put on a giant spectacle or to raise millions of dollars.

“They’re absolutely correct. Nikki and I haven’t done anything like this. But that’s why we put a board of directors and outside committee together. We had connections and people we could talk to to make this happen,” he said. “It’s what you do for San Diego — what you do for your community.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Vicki Granowitz as a board member of the Balboa Park Conservancy. She is a former board member.

    This article relates to: Balboa Park, Community, Corrections, Government, Investigations, News, Parks, Share

    Written by Scott Lewis

    Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently breaks news and goes back and forth with local political figures. Contact Scott at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527, and follow him on Twitter at @vosdscott.

    58 comments
    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    Jerry Sanders, while enjoying one of the largest pension in San Diego history, finds yet another way to arrange for his buddies to be paid large sums of money for doing nothing. Empty suit Todd Gloria finds yet another way to star in a self promotional video at taxpayers expense.

    Third District Councilman Todd Gloria should have led the Balboa Park Celebration effort. It is in his district, but he is so busy hyping himself that he has little time for doing the work of his current office other than creating lame excuses for his official failures. 

    Ultimately, the fault lies in us, the electorate. We continue to  vote for candidates that concentrate their efforts on adding to the wealth of their friends, and enhancing their prospects for higher office regardless of the negative impacts on the citizens of San Diego.

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    The key to this whole fiasco is the former and grossly incompetent mayor Sanders. Beginning with his pushing for his historically destructive plans for the Western entrance into the park and his lack of oversite on the plans for the celebration. It is amazing how as a police officer in charge his handling of the McDonalds massacure resulting in unnecessary additional deaths all the way through the court overturning of his balboa Park MOU and his wrongful firing of staff member Kessler costing taxpayers close to one million dollars that he ends up CEO of the downtown camber of commerce.

    Kevin Swanson
    Kevin Swanson subscribermember

    What Scott and Andrew fail to mention is that prior to BPCI'S formation I submitted an unsolicited framework and theme for 2015 entitled "San Diego 2015: Celebrating a Century of Creativity" that included "Balboa Park 2015." I filed the Fictitious Business Names and Business License Fees to do business under these names.

    Voice of San Diego, the Tourism Marketing District, and everyone else that I discussed the Framework with told me they were only supporting the non-profit set up by the City as the Official Organization. All of my attempts to discuss my framework with the Clays as Board Chairs were ignored, up to and including the day that plans for dissolution were announced.

    Even now my ideas for Celebrating a Century of Creativity are being flatly rebuffed by Mayor Faulconer and Council President Gloria.

    As long as they remain in charge of the City's efforts, those efforts are doomed to failure.

    SpeakUp
    SpeakUp subscriber

    How come Balboa Park isn't joining with the San Diego Zoo's 2016 Centennial to make IT the big party? Isn't the San Diego Zoo really the main draw to the Park and even the City? Time we all shifted to a truly positive institution in the City and give it the credit long deserved. 

    http://www.sandiegozoo.org/africarocks/

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    @Vicky Heithaus I ha a bit concerned by your characterization of the very private Zoo Global as a "truly positive institution".  Zoo Global is just as flawed as other animal entertainment organizations, perhaps more so because they have burdened the taxpayers with reduced rent, unreimbursed city services, and most importantly a tax on each and ever resident and property in the City.  The private Zoo Global was not able to specifically account for $10s of millions of tax payer dollars.  Recently the USDA has cited this private organization for the way it houses and handles animals.  Sure lots of people like to come to the permanent circus in our park, that does not make it positive or good.   

    Kevin Swanson
    Kevin Swanson subscribermember

    The Zoo does not play well with others. The Employees and Volunteers working on the recent STEAM Day (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) in Balboa Park had no clue that this was taking place, including Rodney the Giraffe at the Air & Space Museum.

    There were no signs or other visual links to the institutions in Balboa Park, and they are not Members of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership.

    At the same time, The City (aka Faulconer & Gloria) jammed all STEAM activities into the East Prado, leaving the West Prado and Plaza de Panama empty.

    A Comedy of Errors continues.

    Jennifer Reiswig
    Jennifer Reiswig subscribermember

    The degree to which hotel interests dominate policy and finances in this city continues continues to baffle me.  

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    The videos of our clueless politicians reminds me of the Steely Dan lyric, "show business kids making movies of themselves - they don't give a damn about anybody else".

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    By the way, any centennial celebration should honor and educate the public about all the San Diegan's who have been defending the park over the last 100 years, including George Marston, Bea Evanston, Esther Scott, Citizen's Coordinate for Century 3 and the Committee of 100.  Teach youngsters about those stalwarts and hope they will choose to take up the torch and defend Balboa Park for another 100 years.

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    @Don Wood Very good suggestion.  If we are going to conserve and preserve  our civic jewel we must train and empower the next generation of park stewards.  Thank you for the suggestion


    Kevin Swanson
    Kevin Swanson subscribermember

    Gee - why not include them in a Living History Exhibit where they wander Balboa Park AND the City extolling the value of Balboa Park?

    DUH!

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Great piece. Took 68 pages to print out, but worth every page. Now we need a follow on article detailing exactly who got paid by the committee, what their relationship was with Jerry Sanders, and what got done, if anything for the money paid. And please include quotes from those who have been blowing the whistle on this charade from the beginning.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    From the UT March 27, 2014: “A San Diego City Council committee on Wednesday ordered an audit of all public funds spent by Balboa Park Celebration Inc., the nonprofit that spent millions of dollars on unrealized plans for a centennial party before voting to go out of business earlier this month … No board members of the organization attended the committee meeting.”

    Kevin Swanson
    Kevin Swanson subscribermember

    Really? You expect anything different?

    The fox has been in the hen house and you now forensically try to figure out who ate the chickens and the eggs?

    How do you tell when a politician is lying (especially it would seem in San Diego?)

    Dryw Keltz
    Dryw Keltz subscriber

    I am glad the possibility of Balboa Park being sold-out to advertisers was shot down quickly and decisively. I ride my bike through that area all the time and it really is a beautiful place. Great architecture, pristine landscaping, and best off all, no billboards or other advertising crap. To have to endure signs such as "The Museum Of Man: Brought To You By Brawndo" would have been just so, so depressing. I'm glad someone took a stand to make sure Balboa Park didn't turn into "The Sleeptrain Mattress Center Park Near Downtown With Museums And Stuff." The entire fiasco is kind of a sad state of reality. It just shows how dependent citizens are on corporations now. THEY ARE OUR ONLY HOPE LEFT TO THROW A PARTY!!! PLEASE "LIKE" OUR YEARLONG PARTY IDEA BIG CORPORATIONS!!! I think there might be one person left in San Diego that thinks we can throw a big party without the help of a big corporation. It's not me of course, even when I host as few as five people I insist on a pool filled with live Maine lobsters (BROUGHT TO YOU BY BOUNTY: THE QUICKER PICKER UPPER!) But somewhere out there a person probably does exist that could pull off a good year-long celebration for between two and 2.5 million dollars without the help of corporate sponsors. I must admit though, it will be tough. That inflatable trampoline situated over the mystery river will probably suck up at least $700,000 of that budget. ($150,000 to rent the contraption for the day. $550,000 to pay for all the broken necks. There was one person in that artist rendering that must have been 60 ft up in the air!)  

    Helen Weals
    Helen Weals subscriber

    At least Filner got rid of that cringe-inducing "Edge 2015" branding. The centennial celebration does not need to look to the future - it should celebrate the San Diego business people, politicians and philanthropists who had the foresight to create Balboa Park. To honor them, we could start by repairing the crumbling park infrastructure instead of wasting money on fireworks and light shows.

    J Hogan
    J Hogan subscriber

    Speaking from experience, many park organizational admin staff were wary of the Centennial Party concept from the beginning, as initially there were signals coming from the TMD and organizers that they wanted a say in the internal programming of individual institutions during the year the event was to take place.

    That stated, it's sad that the organizers and city staff don't really recognize the park for what it is: a collection of important cultural institutions housed in historic buildings surrounded by a beautiful and exotic landscape. Why does it have to be anything else?  

    It's not a concert hall or sports area, empty and dark until the next show comes to town.  It's a vibrant, living place that is worthy of celebration *every* day.

    Why does everything always have to involve a fireworks display, light show, and "spectacular entertainment?" 

    You could stage a Zeppelin reunion on the organ pavilion and a million fans would show up, but only for one day and for the wrong reason at that.


    There could have been any easy solution for this: a one week, free pass to all park institutions and attractions for the entire year. 

    Advertisement copy would have read: "San Diego's Balboa Park Centennial Anniversary - Be Our Guest!"  

    Visitors would have gotten a special "Explorer Pass" free of charge.


    People would have discovered the place, enjoyed themselves, and made plans to return someday.

    I'd wager that park institutions, city staff, hoteliers, and corporate sponsors would have found a way to make it work for everyone.


    The $2.5M spent on nothing would have been a good start.

    As an aside, am I the only one who finds it ironic and slightly amusing that the media company who makes videos for the "Golden Fleece Awards" itself part of this year's Grand Fleece?





    Cindy McNary
    Cindy McNary subscribermember

    After reading this article, three things come to mind:

    (1) We have no business calling ourselves "America's Finest City." It is beyond time to retire that silly and inaccurate moniker. San Diego has clearly lost its ability to think big or to do anything grand. Sad, sad, sad.

    (2) I love Balboa Park and, despite the BPIC mess, I continue to believe the Park should be celebrated in 2015. I will repeat something Bill Bradshaw wrote in an earlier response to this article: "Wouldn’t we be better making this a San Diego celebration, aimed at the locals but available to anyone who wants to attend?"

    Absolutely! Assuming there are monies left over from the BPIC, why not let a professional event organizer (think the folks who put on StreetScene, the Rock-and-Roll marathon, and helped with the Super Bowl in the early 2000s) come up with a weekend-long plan to help locals and folks from beyond come and enjoy and celebrate the Park. Theme ideas for such an event could be submitted by the the public, as it is a public park. Start small and think big!

    (3) A big thank you, Andrew and Scott, for this well-researched and written article. I had no idea of all the drama surrounding this event. Thank you for shining a light on what has been, thus far, anyhow, another sad chapter in this city's history.

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    I felt this celebration was not for the people of San Diego.  Instead, they were more likely to suffer from it (traffic, crowds at the park, cost) while those in the tourist industry would benefit (IF anyone did).  I suspect the people would be happy with a small event and that they would prefer that money go to maintaining park infrastructure.  Honor the park by taking care of it.  But this city is always about lining the pockets of the connected while ignoring infrastructure needs.   

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    @Janet Shelton Janet you are so right the politicians are either from another planet or belong to the corporations and unions that financed their elections.  It is obscene that the City Council gives 10s of millions in tax dollars to Balboa Park organizations and so little to keep up the park.  Many of the institutions and theatres in the Park are making millions in profit but they still get big money from their buddies on the Council and Art Commission

    Linda Tegarden
    Linda Tegarden subscriber

    @john stump @Janet Shelton  

    Millions in profit John Stump?  Which institutions and theaters would those be?  Who are the beneficiaries of the slush fund and how do you know about this?  I was always under the impression that the institutions within the Park struggle to survive and rely to a large degree on volunteer labor.  

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    @Linda Tegarden @john stump@Janet Shelton Thank you for the fact checking.  I once believed as you until I started picking up the park rocks and looking under them and behind the curtains.  The profit and loss statements of all the nonprofits are public record  - you can ask them for their public audit or go to GUIDESTAR .  For example here are the links to the 2 recent tax returns for the Old Globe twin fundshttp://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2012/336/125/2012-336125358-098e065a-9.pdf%  http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2012/951/543/2012-951543396-09cb4af0-9.pdf  or our hometown park Zoo (now Zoo Global) http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2012/951/648/2012-951648219-09b3b2ac-9.pdf.  These are sophisticated multimillion dollar corporations so take care in reading these returns.  Also keep in mind that unlike other tourism venues like Sea World, PetCo and Qualcom these revenues are not reimbursing the City for costs through rent and other charges.  The other significant subsidies involve free water and cash.  The City budget provides $10+ million to the Zoo and 100's of thousands to the others  See pages http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2012/951/648/2012-951648219-09b3b2ac-9.pdf and http://www.sandiego.gov/fm/annual/pdf/fy14/vol2/v2specialpromo.pdf.  Some institutions are doing better than others which reflects that special combination of audience appeal, good management, and luck.  Thanks for asking.  I am active in support of several Park groups and want to return the Park to its City serving and governed mission or simply stated Balboa Park  FUBU.  Unfortunately, I think few Park tenants are governed by City residents or employ a City workforce.  I am still seeking information on the profitability of the private for profit commercial tenants??

    Howard Ahmanson
    Howard Ahmanson subscriber

    Anything that requires "corporate sponsorships" and "angel investors" is going nowhere. I remember the State Sesquicentennial in 2000 you don't? Why am I not surprised?

    Cory
    Cory subscribermember

    @Howard Ahmanson  Like the new library, Petco park, SDSU's new student center, and the rock 'n' roll marathons, complete failures. (100's more on that list)

    Howard Ahmanson
    Howard Ahmanson subscriber

    They are institutions, not popular celebrations, except for the marathons.

    Kevin Swanson
    Kevin Swanson subscribermember

    There is nothing wrong with Corporate Sponsorships, only with how THE CITY (Sanders, Faulconer, Gloria, et al) gets them and uses them. I firmly believe that I could get major International Sponsors for events in the San Diego Region - and will be acting on that Belief toward setting up San Diego Regional Events that DO NOT INVOLVE the parties that think of Balboa Park as their own Private Sandbox.

    The First Event will be The 1915 San Diego Exposition Road Race Centennial Event, taking place 100 Years + 1 Day after the 300 mile Race on the First Licensed Race Course in The Southwest.

    That Race had 50,000 Paid Spectators in a City of 40,000 residents.

    Will Bill Evans (who brags that he owns two cars from that 1915 Race) support an Event that Celebrates the Centennial of that Race and the Century of Creativity in Transportation since it took place?

    Only Time will tell....

    christine mann
    christine mann subscriber

    How bout the part where the celebration was never intended to happen? how dumb are we. Look at this group...Nikki Clay and Ben Clay. Ben is a 25 year SUPER lobbyist who deals in complex development issues like how do you dismantle a 100 year old park.



     From a SD city memo:
    'Mr. Ben Clay is a Partner & Founder of Carpi & Clay, a government relations firm with
    offices in San Diego, Sacramento, and Washington, D.C. The firm provides strategic
    counsel, designs government relations programs, develops legislative strategies to advance public policy and business development, and represents clients at the local, state and federal levels.

    Throughout Mr. Clay's experience in government relations and
    intergovernmental affairs, he has provided legislative and strategic counsel on issues and topics including transportation and infrastructure, natural resources, environmental
    regulation, public finance, housing and community development, safety and security, and
    international trade and commerce.

    Since 1984, Mr. Clay has been a state and federal lobbyist and has represented clients including the City of Coronado, County of San Diego, Port of San Diego, Scripps Health and San Diego County Water Authority. Originally, Mr. Clay founded the Clay Company in 1984, then began Carpi & Clay with Mr. Ken Carpi in 1986. Prior to establishing Carpi. & Clay, Mr. Clay worked for the City of San Diego as an Assistant to the City Manager from 1972-1973. He later represented and lobbied on behalf of the City in Sacramento from 1973-1976. From 1976-1983, Mr. Clay was the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the County of San Diego and represented the County as their Chief Lobbyist in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    Your well written article states:“…[T]he celebration would bring in millions of out-of-town visitors.” “Ten million people visited Balboa Park in 2010. The park could double that number in 2015 with a great centennial, according to the steering committee, and as many as 75 percent of those 10 million additional attendees could come from out of town.” ARE OUR LEADERS OUT OF THEIR MINDS??


    Our city can barely fill pot hole, provide basic services to our 1.5 million residents.The City has too little park and recreation services, libraries have reduced hours and it is losing Police and Fire personnel.East Village has 100’s of homeless encamped at 16th and Market and the Council had to search the couch cushions to extend some shelter beds.Yet they have been planning a”… celebration would bring in millions of out-of-town visitors.” They want to add another 10 million people to Balboa Park.Perhaps they are planning to put up admission gates and ticket booths for picnic and strolling space.


    We are in a drought and the Council has raised the sewer and water fees to meet demand but they want to “... bring in millions of out-of-town visitors.” Neither, our City or the County have developed the required Climate Action plans to address our existing deteriorating environment and globalwarming, but they want to “… bring in millions of out-of-town visitors.”Have they figured out the traffic impacts? Have they studied where the water is coming from and the sewage for more than 10 million out of town visitors is going to go?Do they think that these new 10 million out of town visitors, in addition to the existing base line tourism and convention business , including Comic Con, are coming in on magic carpets, instead of fossil fuels?


    The quality of life for the rest of us during this for profit Satyricon is not going to improve.Hoteliers and developers are going to party all the way to the bank.The wealthy will attend a few private party events and then leave town for the waves of tourists . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8cebyi-s1k I think it is time we re-evaluate Tourism as the backbone of our economic base.Alternately, we can follow our leaders go in all the way and over the sustainable cliff.


    If we go all the way, let’s get City Schools and the Community Colleges to dump that new core curriculum and STEM.Job readiness training for careers as Maids, Bartenders, and service personnel should be initiated. Perhaps phase two is to recognize downtowns native American heritage and open a couple of Casinos. Is our economic vision to become Las Vegas by the Sea? http://youtu.be/ucubLr3ZLbw

    Gaby Dow
    Gaby Dow subscribermember

    Great reporting, it helps to understand how the whole thing unraveled, which is all just sad. 


    In late 2012, I helped set up a visit for Mayor Sanders to a tech incubator to meet with a group of entrepreneurs who wanted to share how startups could help transform and modernize city facilities. Sanders asked me to get in touch with the Balboa Park Centennial committee to discuss how startups could be a part of the 2015 celebration... you can see a photo of our meeting here: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/243616661063515463/


    I called the committee contact, twice, but never heard back.


    A few months later, the 24-yr old founder sitting across from the Mayor in the photo, a SDSU grad, deployed his solution at the PGA Tour in Torrey Pines (I remember him almost getting kicked out of the press tent as I set up the TV interview on the link below because the Tour media director thought these two kids were hacking into his system, and I had to explain the 'kids' WERE his system): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_4xukHTPSc  


    I don't think there was one member on the Centennial board under age 35 and that is a problem!  Let our brilliant kids take over-- look at how ComicCon took off!!


    The PGA Tour / Locbit video is a perfect example of how our incredible San Diego startups could team up with existing events and programs at Balboa Park to show the world the future.  Imagine an existing festival at the park transformed by 3D Robotics drones, a 5k run boosted by RockMyRun, a park scavenger hunt expanded with use of sensors and mobile phone engagement, etc.... 


    The long-standing organizations and events would benefit by having the startup take them to the next level of efficiency, engagement and creativity; the startups would benefit by having terrific case studies to help them grow / create jobs; and the world would be invited to participate in traditional events and exhibits at the park transformed by the best that our local innovation sector can offer.


    Your analogy to startups wasn't a stretch.... lets do something with  this! 




    John Falchi
    John Falchi subscriber

    Thank you for this interesting article about what those millions of dollars were spent on before the 2015 Centennial Celebration Organization came apart.  As someone who has taken part in the planning of major events, it seems that people with little event planning experience were put in charge, with plenty of money available to be spent, but little clarity in what this grand event was to be about!   That does not do justice to an event that was expected to double tourism to San Diego from all over the world for 2015, nor is it the type of quality organization that would attract major sponsors and/or well heeled individual investors!  It seems high time to put some experienced event planners in charge, stop thinking that this needs to be a world wide extravaganza and scale it down to a Centennial Celebration that San Diegans would be pleased to take part in.

    Gayle Falkenthal APR
    Gayle Falkenthal APR subscriber

    What's wrong with sheet cake? A really, really big sheet cake. I love cake. Are you telling me San Diegans don't like cake? 

    Reports like this gem are the reason why I'm a Voice member. Bravo, Scott and Andrew. It read like a marvelous piece of fiction. I only wish this civic train wreck really was a piece of fiction. 



    Kevin Swanson
    Kevin Swanson subscribermember

    "The Politicians went to the Opera, Symphony, and Old Globe with valet parking and listened to the violin while Balboa Park continued to deteriorate and the Public ate Costco sheet cake in Celebration of the 1915 San Diego Exposition."

    Great headline, if a bit long.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Interesting analysis, but question at this point is “Where do we go from here?”  To me, the premise on which this grand celebration was based is very shaky, that a centennial celebration of a park in the 8th largest city in America is going to attract millions of visitors from all over the world, thus providing a bonanza of new tourist dollars for a city that is already a major tourism destination. 

    It’s interesting that they used an analogy with the Holiday Bowl and projected 10 to 15 times the hotel room usage.  But the Holiday Bowl has one unique thing going for it; both teams are from out of town and their fans like to visit San Diego in winter. 

    I’m not knocking Balboa Park.  It’s a beautiful, wonderful place to picnic, stroll, see a play or visit a museum or two.  But let’s face it, it has one world class attraction, perhaps the best zoo in the world.  The other venues are interesting but hardly spectacular, and who from out of town gives a hoot about the fact that the place is 100 years old in 2015?

    Wouldn’t we be better making this a San Diego celebration, aimed at the locals but available to anyone who wants to attend.  Instead of year long, how about scaling it back to 3-4 months and featuring each major exhibit for a week or so?  Let each institution put on what it thinks will show it to best advantage, and focus on helping residents of San Diego County learn about our great asset so that they’ll use it more often?  

    Cindy McNary
    Cindy McNary subscribermember

    "Wouldn’t we be better making this a San Diego celebration, aimed at the locals but available to anyone who wants to attend."

    Amen to that, Mr. Bradshaw. This was but one of many thoughts that ran through my mind as I read this article.

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    "Things Fall Apart"

    Signed,

    Chinua Achebe

    Bob Laurence
    Bob Laurence subscribermember

    San Diegans in 1915 put on a world's fair. San Diegans in 2014 can't figure out how to stage a party remembering a world's fair. San Diegans in 1965 organized an opera company. San Diegans in 2014 can't keep the opera company afloat. Is there a trend here?

    Augmented Ballot
    Augmented Ballot subscriber

    Mr. Evans' comment has the ring of truth. But pretty self-serving and self-satisfied too. Coming from someone who provided the swing vote on the (bad) convention center deal he'd opposed in exchange for a favorable expedited lease agreement, we could do without the posturing.


    Small aside: for scale, note that the TMD budget is $26M+/yr.

    Carolyn Chase
    Carolyn Chase subscriber

    Where are the lessons learned? 

    Boosterism gone bad? The tourism biz is a bitch? Is was a bad idea to begin with? Don't hire suits to produce events? All of the above, and more.

    At today's Council Committee on the Environment, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith questioned the "model" of trusting a non-profit dependent on volunteers to pursue such a large event. 


    But let us not indict volunteerism for a set of individuals' failures - whether volunteers or not. And BPCI are to be applauded for giving up while there's still a little time and a little money to make something happen by those who do have event experience.


    City Attorney Goldsmith also questioned the levels of oversight provided naming the three City areas BPCI was to report to: City Office of Special Events, City Office of Economic Development and the Council Committee on the Environment. I questioned who ever saw the required quarterly reports? I filed a Public Records Act request to see them and while the Office of Special Events responded quickly, I never heard a peep from the Office of Economic Development. A key mechanism evidently set up for "oversight" to receive financial reports appears to have thought the reports were confidential - if they even ever received them. I never did find out.


    But what if they had received them? It would have revealed what was already obvious to community members interested in helping - that they were failing to put any real there, there, while spending a lot of cash. I met with Mark Germyn - no one would have considered him to be an entreprenuer - seriously. I saw each iteration of PR slides put out by each team. Nothing was ever grounded in the reality of what it take to actually produce something and attract sponsors. 


    It's too easy with 20/20 hindsight over a failure to claim it couldn't be done. 

    Their good intentions to be a multi-million dollar extravaganza for a public park noone outside the City really cares about - they were always too grandiose. Just take one reality check from the get-go. Someone at some point claimed that Balboa Park attracts 10 million visitors per year. Let's do the math. That's about 27,000 visitors per day, every day. My one-day event, the EarthFair is said to attract 60,000 in one day - which is pretty much the max you can fit into the park. But the only equivalent attendance event to Earth Day is December Nights. So if you take the special event attendance, including the run/walk events that happen off the top 0f the 10 million figure, it still conservatively leaves way more than 25,000 needing to attend each and every other day and that just doesn't happen even on most peak weekends, much less every day thoughout the year. My point is - we we're starting with a culture that exagerated from the outset. It all went downhill from there.


    Details matter. They especially matter with events. Ideas can be thrilling. But any vision without the right implementation, will never be realized. 


    The Mayor's representative at the hearing today reported they are working with Council President Gloria's Office and were hoping for a smooth transition and being able to move forward with a local focus for observing the Centennial.


    Kevin Swanson
    Kevin Swanson subscribermember

    The Park does not need one day events that overwhelm it on a continuous basis.

    It needs programming that is not dependent on single day events.

    I proposed that three years+ ago - and no one wants to hear it or read about it - still.

    steve gross
    steve gross subscribermember

    i think Mr. Evans is his own way described it very well.  Bottom line is if they would have chosen a event planner or experienced person in putting together events of this type the project would probably have gotten off on the right foot. With positive momentum. And a project like this needed positive momentum from the start!  that fuels the fundraising and everything that follows.   Why put these politicos to oversee and run the event?  they are the LAST type of people you want involved in this type of project. 

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Lewis: Thank you for this apparently very thorough piece. Very illuminating. I find myself in agreement with Mr. Evans. If you need a plumber, don't call an electrician. Failure is a possibility in any enterprise, but the vacuum of accountability in this case is enormously troubling.

    -P
    -P subscriber

    @Chris Brewster  I hate to say it, but it is hard not to see the lack of accountability to be one of the big problems when gov't functions are privatized.

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    The problem goes back to the Sanders administration. In an apparent swap by Sanders to give Qualcomm a below cost advertisement touting their "Snapdragon" Sanders got Jacobs to support Sanders payback to his developer supporters of his election. That payback was comprised of a proposed historically destructive and unfunded maintenance of a bypass bridge and a parking garage that the IBA pointed out was ill conceived financially regarding the revenue to pay for the proposed bond issuance.

    Finally the marketing of the project was badly flawed in that they really didn't examine what made the 1915 celebration so successful. The committee was attempting to get sponsors with no real blueprints for the proposal.

    Moving on ....get rid of Gerry Braun now and use his salary for someone who could bring much expertise to picking up the reins and moving ahead...someone like SOHO's CEO ...Bruce Coons.

    Bruce has many followers who would make things happen without the on going proverbial milking of the city's cow.

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    Obviously you don't know Mr. Coons and his capabilities contrary to his predecessors he would not be after the milk. Typically you attack the concept with out offering a person or plan as an alternative.

    Cory
    Cory subscribermember

    @Jim Jones I work 2 jobs. The only punishment I endure, for some reason, is reading your mostly disconnected hyperbole-filled rants. Truth be told they're not "really" punishment. They're painfully hilarious. I like funny, and I like pain. Yeehaw! I want some of that connected rich money! 


    CLOSE UP OF MAN FIRING WESTERN GUNS INTO THE SKY


    HELICOPTER PANS OUT TO SEE CORY ON A MOUNTAINTOP.


    FADE TO BLACK

    brantcooper
    brantcooper subscribermember

    So there is absolutely nothing startup-like about this endeavor. It's not like organizations have never had to organize and raise money to put on a celebration. This was simply extremely poor management from many who should have known better.

    Shame on the vendors -- community members, BTW -- who so richly profited from this boondoggle.

    For a true startup event, one might keep tabs on (and participate in) sandiegostartupweek.com.

    Bruce Bogers
    Bruce Bogers subscriber

    I liked San Diego the most, right up until the 70's, when it was still a sleepy little border town. Now it's all about making money. By the way, is there enough left over for a sheet cake?

    Scott Lewis
    Scott Lewis administratormember

    @Jim Jones I don't think this blames Filner. Sanders' people set up a faulty house of cards that Filner seems to have helped blow down. As we try to explain, even if everything were to continue without Filner's disruption, it's not clear what it was or why it would work.

    Scott Lewis
    Scott Lewis administratormember

    @Jim Jones @Scott Lewishe did all of that. Filner took over the contractor, basically ran off the CEO and a fundraiser, fought with the funder, TMD, and demanded a full rebranding. We reported out all those things, yes. 


    Are you saying we shouldn't have? They're a big part of the story.

    As far as Sanders, I think the effort was doomed by its initial framework, however, and its unrealistic expectations and the managers and people he put in place. We discuss all this along with Evans' and Nielsen's and Granowitz's diagnosis, which are not about Filner. 

    Finally, this is an effort to explain what happened, as best we could. If you think something else happened we missed, I'd enjoy reading about it.

    Andrew Keatts
    Andrew Keatts author

    @Jim Jones @Scott Lewis  I have to admit, it WAS especially difficult for us to hide our true intentions-- shielding Sanders from blame-- even while scrutinizing the fundamental flaws in the structure he approved, reporting an alternative plan he may have rejected, and itemizing the top-to-bottom connections between BPCI and his political circle. But, it appears we succeeded, because if we can fool the wise Jim Jones, well, then we can fool everyone.

    Andrew Keatts
    Andrew Keatts author

    @Jim Jones Ah, the limousine liberals. I forgot we were having this conversation in 1971.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Jim Jones @Andrew KeattsI resent that remark.  I'm a Mission Beach Subaru conservative who gives a generous contribution to help fund the most objective news source in town (other than the UT, of course). 

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    Filner is being used as a fall guy for all the mismanagement of this project. In reality he achieved the major goal of removing parking from the plaza at a fraction of the cost of the Then Mayor Sanders plan.

    Kevin Swanson
    Kevin Swanson subscribermember

    Scott - read the Framework I proposed 3 years ago - it sits on my SanDiego2015.com site or look through your old emails.

    I can still (yes, even now) pull off a Celebration that includes Balboa Park.

    Maybe you will take the time to ask me how at some point...